Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Pleasant weekend – Photo diary

Alex and I spent a solid portion of our weekend at Pleasant House Bakery, resulting in a very pleasant break, indeed. As suspected, we stopped in on Friday night for the fish fry special and partook of flaky and moist fish (sustainability bonus!) coated in a thick, crispy, almost fluffy crust. Sitting on a bed of fat potato fries and served with tangy homemade tartar sauce, this fish was a perfect complement to the Oberon we had brought with. BYO success. The lusciously rich custard pie we sampled next paired less well, but was deeply delicious.
We biked back on Saturday afternoon for the “food, drink, and fun” associated with PHB’s gardening class. Set on their back patio to the tune of fall planning, there was much less actual gardening than I had dressed for. I could have been a farmer in those clothes. The session was informative and the snacks were lovely: cucumber dill-butter sandwiches, eggplant bruschetta, fresh iced tea, and amazing ginger cookies. If I weren’t already sold on fresh food tasting better, the snack-propaganda at this gardening class would have done it.
It looks like I also discovered instagram this weekend.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Obsessed with corn, part three

As I fear readers have grown tired of my weekly corn-praising updates, I will keep this post short. I’ve also run out of ways to say, “Sweet corn in season is so great!” To enrich my cornucopia of cob recipes, may I present this corn basil tart. It is herby, creamy, and corny. Real ladies luncheon material, if you know what I mean. 

My corn-related picks seem to be decreasing in health attributes and this one takes the tart with lots of butter, cream, and egg. But it is really delicious. The recipe is spot on—even though I skipped the one-hour cool your crust step. That’s not my style.
For dinner I paired the tart with big slices of heirloom tomato and roasted tomatillo salsa (four small tomatillos and one small onion roasted for 15–20 minutes, then pureed and splashed with Tabasco). For lunch, I topped it with a fresh tomato, cucumber, and radish salad.  
The cornmeal crust is like a packed cornbread, holding in the quiche-like corn and basil filling. It tastes homey and looks fancy! I believe the technical term for that is “win, win.”

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Eggplant parm sandwich: The upside of peer pressure

I’ve been thinking a lot about fall recently, and I’m starting to get really excited. Alex, in an attempt to get back under the umbrella of my good graces after a chicken-related incident earlier this week, reminded me that I’m attempting to appreciate each season for what it has to offer… but fall is my favorite!
While my life buddy has already begun mourning the death of summer, Im consumed with fall fantasies. Sweaters, scarves, boots! Crisp breezes, crunchy red leaves, the gradually growing glow of impending winter holidays. September through December is a darling stretch of year. It’s like walking into a beloved neighborhood bookstore.
And I can’t stop thinking about soup. Pumpkin soup. Cauliflower soup. Lentil soup. I made up a batch of potato leek on Saturday even though I’m trying not to ride the potato train until all the summer goodies are gone. Heavy hot food—it’s what I crave. So, for dinner on this humid August night, flyaways fashioning a frame around my face, I made a hearty eggplant sandwich.
Like the Sparkle Nail, eggplant is ATR at my office right now. Unlike the upcoming cool season, eggplant is not one of my particular favorites. It can be mushy or bitter, or strangely flavorless. You have to salt it, wash it, peel it. Haaaaaaaaassle. 
Well, it turns out peer pressure is too much for me. Obvs. It also turns out eggplant isn’t hard to prepare. And it is a fantastic vehicle for cheese, sauce, and breading. I give you: an eggplant parmesan sub. Except, I used podda. Podda is the new parm.
Slice the eggplant into rounds and then wet with egg. Crust the rounds in whole-wheat breadcrumbs and podda cheese, seasoned with salt and pepper. Fry the rounds in olive oil, 5ish minutes per side.  When both sides are golden, transfer to a cookie sheet and top with shredded mozzarella. Toast your garlic bread at the same time. To prepare the garlic bread, mince one big clove of garlic and combine with two tablespoons of butter, then spread the seasoned butter on both sides of the baguette.
Pop the tray under the broiler until the bread is toasted and the cheese is melted. Meanwhile, heat up some tomato sauce in the pan you used to fry the eggplant—I added a big pinch of red pepper flakes because apparently that’s what I do now. Assemble the sandwich by saucing the toast and layering fried, cheesed rounds of eggplant on the garlic bread base.
This sandwich was spicy, crunchy, buttery, cheesy, melty, saucy, tangy, and delicious. The best part: basing the sandwich on garlic bread! Why have we not been doing this? Thank Jeff the Sandwich King for that neat little addition. And thank too many holiday episodes of RHONJ for the rest.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Corn fritters (or, We had pancakes for dinner again)

Well, we did a lot of eating out last week. My focus on buying peaches at the Saturday market caused us to run out of food around Tuesday. That sort of thing had been a recurring problem in the past, but one I’d thought we’d overcome. Shucks.
On Thursday I was able to re-up my produce stash and we had a simple dish that featured a delightful variety of vegetables. As such, I’d like to revisit the topic of fresh August sweet corn, this time, in the form of hot, savory fritters.  We’re eating our fair share of corn, boiled and buttered, grilled and buttered, and generally buttered, so these fritters mark an exception as they contain no butter—and you don’t miss it.
We topped the ’cakes with cool Greek yogurt and a crisp slaw of crunchy cabbage, red onion, zesty fradishes, and spicy watercress dressed in red wine vinegar and olive oil. A bounty of flavors to celebrate our renewed richness of veg!
The hearty pancakes have great texture from the whole kernels, bursting with juicy sweetness, and pair superbly with the raw, snappy slaw. Corn fritters are a delicious way to mix up your cob consumption. They are light enough for summer, and filling enough for supper.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Canning peaches: A beginner’s tale

This morning I canned peaches in my first-ever canning experience, and I thought I’d try live blogging about it. It was a sticky process, so the pictures are a little rough, bear with me. So, this is Hanna vs. the peaches: a journey in self doubt. It begins now.
7:28 am. I’ve got the day off of work. Alex is frying eggs on the stove. I won’t tell you that I’m nervous in case this turns out fine, however, I may have panicked and forced a coworker to call her grandmother yesterday. 

I’ve just opened the 16-pound box of peaches that I carried home in my bike basket Saturday morning, and the room has filled with their summery aroma. They are ready. The question remains, am I?
7:41 am. I’m eating a peach. I spent all week googling canning recipes, calling grandmothers, and riffling through how-tos in the bookstore, and I forgot about how sweet and juicy the peaches are when you just eat them.

No canning method is the same, unfortunately, so I’ll be winging this in a way, pulling heavily from here and here. I’ve made the decision not to treat my peaches with ascorbic acid (which preserves color), I hope this isn’t a mistake.

Some people want you to use peaches that are a little over ripe, some a little under, I’m aiming for perfectly ripe. My sacrificial peach is just that.  We’re making good decisions so far.
7:49 am. To prep I’ve cleared the dining room table (yes, Mom, that means I put everything on the floor). Now we’re doing the dishes. Once everything is clean, we will wash our water bath, jars, and lids, in hot soapy water, and then rinse. Because the processing time is over ten minutes, there is no need to sterilize the jars. (Or so I’m told.)
Our kitchen is terribly small, and I’ve estimated that we’ll need one pot on each burner of our miniature stove. As such, it is of the utmost importance that we stay organized. (I’m saying “we” because I’ve convinced Alex to go in a little late and help out—I suspect he wants to play with all the gadgets I’ve bought.) I’ve been collecting tools for a few weeks now:
  • A Victorio water bath canner from my sister for my birthday
  • A wide-mouth funnel
  • Jar tongs
  • Weck canning jars (all glass, baby—no plastic, no chemical coatings—though this may have been a mistake as most of the instructions I’ve read are written for the poison-laden variety of jar)
From as far as I can gather on the Internet, it will be 5 peaches per quart jar—my jars are liters. I’m guestimating we’ll need seven jars for our 38 peaches. But it’s better to have more jars washed and ready to go than fewer.
8:12 am. It looks like my canner only fits five jars at a time. Let’s hope the peaches all fit in one batch!

8:19 am. Perhaps I should have started boiling the blanching water earlier… In any case, I’m preparing my syrup. I’ve decided to raw pack the peaches. The general idea is that you peel the peaches, halve them, pack them into jars, and top with hot syrup. Then you put the rings on the lids, clamp them down, and boil them in the canner.

I’m using honey for my syrup. Amy’s grandmother cautioned against this. But Morgan at Pleasant House Bakery said it would work. Local wins. According to the Internet I’ll need 1 cup to 1½ cups of syrup for each quart. I’m going to start by mixing 3 cups of honey with 8 cups of water. That’s a lot of honey. Red flag?
9:43 am. Just called Mom. I’ve spent the last hour-twenty skinning my rosy baseballs, cutting them in half, and jamming the slippery bastards into jars, only to have them rise up when the syrup is added. Panicking, I switched to hot packing them, boiling the peaches in the syrup and repacking the jars. Will they be overcooked, bruised, and mushy by the end of this?
After hot packing, the peaches are still floating. Can I process them as is? I can’t add more liquid because I’ll invade the ½ inch headspace boundary. Now I have to heat up the giant water bath so the temperature matches the hot jars. What if they don’t match? All of my jars are going to shatter! Alex has gone to work; despair reigns supreme.
9:53 am. Mom has put in a call to cousin Jane, who has real canning knowledge, the verdict: Of course peaches float. It is suggested that I should try inverting the jars post processing.

I have now submerged 5 jars in the water bath canner and am waiting for the arrow on the lid to get to the green zone, that’s when I start the timer for 25 minutes.
10:02 am. Still waiting on that arrow, wondering what I should do with the rest of the peaches. Dare I try canning another round? I may freeze some, but the four still remain soaking in the honey syrup. Snack tomorrow! Mom heard from another contact who cans professionally, he thinks the floating issue should be fine as well. Maybe I should stop writing this until I sound less anxious.

10:05 am. New tactic, lie to make myself look more competent: “Canning peaches is fun and easy! Just follow these few quick steps that disagree with all the other versions and were written in a world where gravity doesn’t exist!”
10:17 am. Arrow hit green zone, timer set for 25 minutes! This. Is. Happening. I should try to make this more vivid for you readers by describing the atmosphere in the stadium right now. Tense, but on an upturn. It smells a little like Halloween candy—any experts out there care to comment on what that means? I can hear the jars jumping about a bit in the canner. I’m on edge, waiting for the sound of shattering glass and exploding peaches. What do exploding peaches sound like? I bet, “PoOOfT! Smlat smlat.” (The “smlats” were splattering shrapnel.)
10:45 am. The timer never went off. I’ve remembered that the peaches exist and have removed them from the bath. There seems to be air in the jars. That can’t be good. I guess I’ll have to wait and see what happens when they cool, but I think we’ve hit the question, “What we gon have, dessert or disaster?”  (Sorry to the multiple family members who received frantic calls at this o’clock.)
12:06 pm. Peaches absolutely floating. I saw them as I was on my way to the kitchen for a celebratory popsicle—too soon. I may as well have canned buoys.

4:30 pm. I’ve cut the remaining peaches into slices for freezing.
5:22 pm. Jars are cool, I’m about to remove the clamps.

5:23 pm. ALL FIVE JARS ARE SEALED. Can you believe it?! I think between this and winning the lottery, Ive used up all my miracles for the year. Tell your leper friends I’m sorry.
The next thing I can will be jam. Because it can’t float. 

New local favorite is Pleasant (see what I did there?)

With increasing frequency I have a really hard time deciding where to go out for dinner. I think about how good a taco would be, then I wonder where the meat came from (if it’s been washed with ammonia and packed with fillers) and if the tomatoes were needlessly imported when they are in season locally. When this sort of thing flares up, our options become limited, and we generally end up having to pay more for better quality food. Mostly, though, it means we have to go north. City Provisions and XOCO are favorites, but rush hour traffic diminishes their draw.

Yesterday when this happened, I had just gotten off the Green Line to meet Alex at IIT. I explained that we had one cabbage at home for dinner, he suggested Nightwood, which is always reliable about food sources, conveniently located south of downtown, and way more delicious than one cabbage. We were there for Sunday lunch this week and I enjoyed an outstanding omelet filled with sweet corn, tomatillo, and bacon. Alex had a burger (cheddar, bacon).
As it was 4:30 pm, and I was ready to eat. I didn’t want to wait an hour for Nightwood to open. So we did what my sister recommended back in June and headed down 31st street to Pleasant House Bakery.
We should have listened to her sooner because Pleasant House Bakery is as delicious as it is local. Everything is from scratch. Grassroots from scratch. “We grew this” from scratch. They focus on savory pies and have a rotating daily special. On Tuesdays, they have burgers.
Alex had a burger (fried egg, hot sauce). I, on the other hand, partook of the pie: steak, ale, carrots. The tender, short-rib-esque filling was encapsulated by a beautiful, buttery, flaky crust, which, when dipped in mashed potatoes and gravy, was lusciously rich and ridiculously tasty. Really, really good. “Clean plates” good. I can’t wait to eat this stuff in winter. At $7.50 a pie, I’m not breaking the bank until I have to buy new jeans.
I heard tale of a s’more-oriented dessert, however, it was unavailable so we rounded out the feast with a cupcake. The buttercream was top notch, and the cake was lovely, but cold, making for a crumb density that could not replace Curious George as my cupcake king.
I knew we were in for the good stuff when the meal’s soundtrack, which had been tuned to U2, switched to Cyndi Lauper. This is Alex, breaking it down.
The only downside: apparently PHB is BYOB, at which we BYOfailed.  Easy solution: we’ll go back (biking, because it is so fantastically close to us) and we’ll bring beer (in my basket). Maybe this Friday for the fish and chips! Win, win.
Pleasant House Bakery on Urbanspoon